The Piedmont region in northwestern Italy is positively riddled with D.O.C. and D.O.C.G.-level appellations that highlight if not exclusively prescribe Nebbiolo as their grape variety: Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara, Ghemme, Faro, Lessona et al. And though the latter two are fairly obscure regions, Carema has got them all beat both in terms of obscurity as well as geographical remoteness.
Located directly next to Italy’s smallest (and largely Francophone) region Valle D’Aosta, the Carema zone is MINISCULE. There are only TWO – count ’em, TWO – producers in the tiny town of Carema: a private winery by the name of Ferrando and the producer of this wine, Cantina dei Produttori Nebbiolo di Carema, a co-operative concern with almost 80 member/growers that farm a total of just 42 acres of vineyards. That’s it.
As you might expect from its location, Carema sports the highest altitude vineyards in Piedmont, and some of the highest in all of Italy, with some vineyard sites located close to 2,000 feet above sea level. Most of the vines are grown on precipitously steep slopes that are terraced to make working them a little more manageable. Not surprisingly, this area is quite cold and snowy in the winter time, so most if not all of Carema’s vines are trained high to prevent them from being completely snowed under and to also allow the strong sun found at this altitude to warm the more sensitive business ends of the vines which serves to maximally promote spring budding and foliage development in this harsh environment.
And though Carema is just as much a Nebbiolo wine as Barolo for example, when all is said and done, the two wines could hardly be more different. First, in Carema, as in many of the more northerly Piedmontese Nebbiolo-heavy appelations, the so-called Picutener and Pugnet clones of Nebbiolo populate the vineyards rather than the Michet and Lampia types that inhabit more southerly growing zones like Barolo. Then there is the soil. The Barolo region is largely composed of either calcareous marls or dense sandstone while Carema’s soil is rocky limestone. And as previously mentioned, Carema is considerably cooler year-round then any part of the Langhe.
Not surprisingly, all of these factors conspire to produce much lighter-colored, feminine, and etherally scented wines with lower alcohol levels. In fact, the clonal differences and the radically different terroirs ultimately produce such divergent results that many a drinker would be hard-pressed to believe that these two wines were produced in the same region from the same grape variety. And though it might be heresy to say, more times than not I’d take the Carema over the Barolo: it’s a better value economically, it matures more quickly (though it is still quite ageworthy), and it’s far more versatile at the table. Carema is not something you’re likely to turn up at your corner liquor store, but if and/or when you do run across a bottle, grab it and see just how easy-going and pretty Nebbiolo can be.
I mated this very elegant wine with a first course of mushroom risotto, followed by a pork tenderloin roasted with prunes, apricots, herbs, shallots and wine with a side of roasted garlic mashed potatoes.
Cantina Produttori dei Nebbiolo di Carema 2010
Slightly browned pale brick red color. Very elegant and evocative nose of wild blueberry and strawberry, dried roses, pine sap, cinnamon, mocha and wood smoke. The palate is medium light in body with a beautiful balance between fine, smooth but wiry tannins and a juicy, nervy acidity that conveys fine and complex flavors of cranberry, black cherry, raspberry, roasted chestnut, licorice, and minerals. Long and slightly austere sweetly earthy finish. A tremendous value.